Slain Musicians Came To NYC For Music Freedom

Iranian musicians Soroush and Arash Farazmand came to the United States to pursue their passion – playing music in an indie rock band called the Yellow Dogs. Instead of achieving fame for their songs, they gained notoriety for their horrific deaths.

The brothers were among three men shot and killed in their Brooklyn apartment early Monday by a fellow musician who police say was upset over being kicked out of another Iranian band.

“They wanted to be known for their music,” Yellow Dogs manager Ali Salehezadeh said. “I guess now we have a gun story. … It’s so sad.”

Photo: Danny Krug/AP
2012 photo (from left), Koroush “Koory” Mirzaei, Siavash Karampour, Arash Farazmand and Soroush Farazmand at The Gutter in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Yellow Dogs came from Iran three years ago after appearing in a film about the underground music scene there. The brothers were a guitarist and a drummer who had just received political asylum. The bass player and singer weren’t home at the time of the bloodshed and weren’t harmed.

Police said gunman Ali Akbar Mahammadi Rafie, 29, killed himself on the roof after struggling with a survivor of his former band, the Free Keys. Investigators believe a guitar case found on an adjoining roof may have been used to carry the assault rifle used in the attack.

Rafie “was upset that he wasn’t in the band anymore” New York Police Department spokesman John McCarthy said. Investigators suspect the shooter and his former bandmates may have had an argument over money, he added.

Another person killed, Ali Eskandarian, was also a musician but not in the band; the wounded man was an artist.

The row house in the industrial neighborhood of East Williamsburg where the victims lived had been a hangout for artists who attended parties there. The musicians all knew one another, the manager said.

But Rafie hadn’t spoken to the victims in months because of a “very petty conflict,” Salehezadeh said, declining to give specifics.

“There was a decision not to be around each other,” he said. “They were never that close to begin with. … This was nothing. We thought it was all behind us.”

The rampage erupted when the gunman climbed over an adjoining roof to the home, then down to a third-floor terrace where he opened fire through a window, killing the 35-year-old Eskandarian. The shooter then killed Arash Farazmand, 28, in a third-floor bedroom and Soroush Farazmand, 27, in a second-floor bedroom while he was on a bed using his laptop computer, police said.

The fourth tenant was hit in the arm before Rafie and his former bandmate struggled over the gun until the clip fell out, police said. Rafie put the clip back in the rifle, went back to the roof and shot himself in the head, police said.

The gun was found next to the body. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it had been purchased in upstate New York in 2006 and police were investigating its history.

Originally from Tehran, the Yellow Dogs were the subject of a 2009 film, “No One Knows about Persian Cats,” which told the semi-fictional tale of a band that played illegal rock shows in Tehran. The film won a prize at the Cannes festival.

The band came to the United States to pursue the dream of playing rock music in an open society, their manager said.

“You can’t be a rock star in Iran,” Salehezadeh said. “It’s against cultural law. You can’t grow there as a band.”

The group played recent gigs in New York at small but hip venues like the Knitting Factory and Brooklyn Bowl, and their dance music sound is a little like Joy Division.

“They were great kids who people just loved,” Salehezadeh said. “They looked cool and they played great music. … They wanted to be known for their music. Now we’re not going to get to do that.”

A friend of the brothers’ family, Golbarg Bashi described the family as “very progressive, very open-minded.”

Salehezadeh said the victims’ relatives were stunned by the violence.

“People don’t own guns in Iran,” he said. “We don’t have this problem there. It doesn’t exist.”